Reviews/Visual Art

Disrupting Duchamp

22 September 2018

Review: Various artists, “HERE&NOW18” ·
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

“HERE&NOW: Besides, it is always the others who die” responds to the legacy of Marcel Duchamp on the 50th anniversary of both the artist’s death and the exhibition “Duchamp: the Mary Sisler Collection”, which toured Australia, including the Art Gallery of Western Australia. The WA artists featured in “HERE&NOW” showcase newly commissioned works, all of which engage with Duchamp’s complicated legacy, whether it be to sustain, complicate or disrupt.

Deftly and unexpectedly combining works by WA artists Julie Dowling, Carly Lynch, Peter & Molly (Peter Cheng and Molly Biddle), Perdita Phillips, Bjoern Rainer-Adamson, and Alex Spremberg, curator Anna Louise Richardson invites these artists to toy with the archival remains of Duchamp’s Australian exhibition, as well as his unavoidable influence on contemporary art into the present.

Responding to Duchamp’s presence (and absence), Phillips and Rainer-Adamson’s work sits in glass cases opposite the archives, with three works that play with questions of trickery, information retention, codes and secrecy. Clues and explanations for artworks sit inside sealed containers next to those same artworks, and special editions of the show catalogue are tucked away inside glass. In these cabinets, deflections abound.

Work by Carly Lynch. An armchair is surrounded by strips of torn cloth.
Carly Lynch strips and redresses a French armchair to consider representations of bodies that are fluid, material and malleable.

The idea of bodies runs throughout the exhibition as a thread tying many of the works together. In particular, the female body, used as provocation and appropriation by Duchamp in many of his works, is reclaimed and interrogated – a digital model of a clitoris is present in the pages of the catalogue, and Carly Lynch strips and redresses a French armchair to consider representations of bodies that are fluid, material and malleable, rather than encased in glass and stripped of agency. In her work, Lynch imagines a different kind of stripping as her fabric takes its own shapes on the wall, sometimes an image of a restrictive corset, but also resembling seaweed or other watery flotsam, unruly fabric oozing from the wall, refusing to be contained in utilitarian shapes. More broadly, Phillips’s installation Between a shipwreck and an anthill (2018) is itself a body of readymades and archival material, subverting Duchamp’s masculinist attitude towards survival in hostile environments. Rather than “every man for himself”, the work hinges on ideas of relationality and collective memory.

Peter & Molly’s work uses Duchampian readymades to interrogate the shame around bodies that are also coded as non-normative, or not conforming to the gender binary, nodding to the famous Fountain (1917) work as a symbol of male aggression in one sense (because men can piss anywhere without shame) whilst simultaneously questioning the binary logic of the urinal/uterus shapes contained within Fountain. This theme of non-normative, othered bodies and subject positions resonates through Julie Dowling’s portrait, her luminous twinned selves reflecting the multiple subject positions and code-switching required to walk through white colonialist worlds as an Indigenous woman.

Ultimately, the exhibition touches on aspects of Duchamp’s work whilst considering the multiple subject positions and environments the artists occupy in their own specific histories and experiences. Like Duchamp, the exhibition is not afraid to be cerebral, but it’s also not afraid to be critical; to complicate, disrupt and interrogate systems of power within and outside the art world.

“HERE&NOW” is at Lawrence Wilson Gallery until December 8.

Pictured top: Detail from Julie Dowling’s “Self Portrait, Code Switch Miribaya (Changing Skin)”.

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Author —
Miranda Johnson

Miranda Johnson is a curator and writer who has worked for various contemporary arts institutions, co-founded Cool Change Contemporary and co-hosts Fem Book Club at the Centre for Stories. Miranda’s favourite aspect of the playground is getting the chance to meet as many dogs as possible.

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